Friday, December 26, 2008

I'll Never Let You Go


One question I hear at work, every day, without fail:

"Is there a Starbucks/Dunkin' Donuts or any kind of coffee place in here?"

The answer to both variations of the first part of this question is a resounding "No." There are no Starbucks in the airport at all, and the Dunkin' Donuts is two terminals over. You have to exit and re-enter security to get to it. As for the second part, all it takes for someone to see the only coffee place in this terminal when they are standing and talking to me is for them to do a 180 degree turn and it is right there, large as life, with a huge, bright orange, purple and green sign. This indicates one of a few possible issues for the person in question.

One possible issue is that their eyesight is failing them. Always possible, and there really is no way for me to tell if this is the case. That is an understandable reason to ask about the "popular" places, actually, as I assume their logos could be easily recognizable for someone with vision issues.

Another possible issue is just obliviousness. We see examples of that all the time here. People asking where the bathrooms are when there are simple signs everywhere indicating this, or asking how to get to baggage claim when the biggest signs in the terminal give this information in 5 inch tall letters and arrows. We used to get the same issue at the movie theatre I worked at for years. Some people can't be bothered to read signs and they figure that anyone with an airport badge or in an employees uniform is here to do nothing more than answer their questions, no matter how inane. To be fair, at the movie threatre that was the case. Not so much at the airport, but I digress.

However, the most likely reason for ignoring the obvious coffee shop in favor of asking me where the well known national chains are is, I suspect, training. We are trained, by the constant exposure to commercials and the ubiquitous presence of these places, that if we want coffee and pastry, then Starbucks or Dunkin' Donuts is the place to go. You know the country runs on Dunkin'. We are taught through branding and advertisement practices, (which are becoming subtler and subtler) that these are the places you go for these products because only they do them "right."

Honestly? I have never gotten a coffee or a pastry from either of these franchises that tastes significantly "better" or "more right" than anywhere else, including when my spouse brews coffee for us in the morning. Every cup of coffee tastes different depending on who brewed it, how clean their instruments are, the quality of the water, and a hundred other factors that can change just by walking across the street to the other Starbucks. We have been convinced that because we got a product at a specific location then it must be right regardless of the actual flavor, consistency, etc. We are so well trained that we will be faithful to brands for brand-names sake, ignoring actual quality in the process. We will memorize a brand-specific menu and think that we can get these things the same anywhere without actually knowing what we are putting into our bodies. "Frappaccino"... "Dunkaccino"... Do you even know the difference between a latte and a cappuccino or what a macchiato is? Do you even need to know?

What I want to know is why. Why in the world do we trust big brand names? There are constant examples of criminal greed, fraud and indifference to public good...YOUR the corporate world, generally from some of the biggest names. Why the hell do we trust them? In a small local store, the owner and employees are responsible for the business and business practices. It is not hard, should something happen as a result of this business' actions, to figure out who is responsible and who shoulders the penalty. In the corporations, the business itself is a singular entity for the purpose of public relations, taxes, and our relationship to them, but when something happens as a result of how the business is run, suddenly there is no single person who is actually responsible for how this business functions. We have seen this again and again. We continue to see it now as the economy is forcing the corporate world to eat their own.

And yet, we continue to cling to this idea that a big recognizable name means we can TRUST them, or even that we OWE them something and therefore must remain exclusive customers. This sounds like an abusive relationship to me. I for one am going to start working on a shelter for victims of economic violence, where we learn that corporate logos can't love you back, and that you don't need them to survive.


  1. That is actually really thoughtful. I'd never considered that analogy but... it's startlingly accurate.

    (Arrived via Shakesville.)

  2. @Llencelyn:


  3. Anonymous3:03 PM

    In the suburban Midwest, where I am from, we are trained in the ways you describe. As a matter of fact, we have little choice but to familiarize and accustom our tastes to national chains, as little else dots the consumer's landscape. In many situations, we literally do not have the choice to patronize a non-corporate business.

    We come to think of this as right and normal, and to feel uncomfortable with a mom-and-pop store, a family-run restaurant that isn't a national franchise, a locally-run, quirky, fair-trade alternative. The sales associates don't have a uniform! We don't recognize all the menu items! Sometimes the store is closed for a family function!

    There are entire cities choked with chains cropping up like weeds in every strip mall. How can the people who live in cities like this be otherwise than completely subservient to the corporations that dominate their communities? There is no cultural space in such cities that is not dominated by logos and advertisements. Eventually, the culture there becomes defined by these things, and people signal their allegiances or their individuality completely through brand choices.

  4. @theczech

    Thank you for that. I did not take that into account in my analysis, and having lived in the inter-mountain west where the situation is much the same, I should have known better.

  5. Lyndsay10:37 PM

    In the past year I know of two original cafes and two original stores downtown that have started in my city. I really hope they survive. One cafe (with 100 kinds of tea!) is in the mall so I bet it will. You described the "trust franchises" idea so well. Unfortunately that's how we're trained in this culture. How sad that it can be hard to find something unique when traveling to another city. Sad that downtowns struggle for business. Now that I've realized all this stuff in the past year, I am going to franchises to eat or shop a lot less.